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After dark, the dirty work at Disneyland begins

A crew of 600 custodians, painters, gardeners and decorators works 365 nights a year to ensure that the 85-acre park meets Walt Disney’s squeaky-clean ideals.

May 02, 2010|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

Walt Disney himself led early efforts, insisting that attractions, gates and benches be repainted on schedule, even if a touch-up would suffice. He made sure light bulbs were replaced even before they burned out and trash cans were emptied before they were full.

"When I started on Disneyland, my wife used to say, ‘But why do you want to build an amusement park? They're so dirty.' I told her that was just the point; mine wouldn't be," the founder said at the time.

Longtime park fans say Disneyland hasn't always sparkled. In the mid-1990s, they say, park managers turned away from Disney's emphasis on cleanliness to save on maintenance costs. "For 10 years or so, it was horrible," said Al Lutz, founder of MiceAge, a fan website. "That wasn't Disneyland."

But with the 50th anniversary of the park approaching in 2005, Disneyland officials renewed the push to operate a spotless park. And they turned, of course, to the night crew to make it happen.

Beginning after midnight, about 300 gardeners work to give the park its trademark manicured look.

Spotting tiny pests like aphids and spider mites can be difficult for nighttime gardeners. But Disneyland horticulturalist Steve Fox said his biggest fear was tripping or falling in the dark. "We try not to hurry and try to do the work that is needed as best we can," he said.

Meanwhile, the paint crews search for gates, fences, benches or buildings that have become faded, chipped or scratched. But they must use special paint that will dry before guests enter the park in the morning.

Some areas such as Mickey's Toontown require special attention. To reverse the effects of thousands of climbing, scampering children, the crews run through gallons of paint a year on the brightly painted cartoonish village.

"It's a pretty tough location," Caranci said.

Other overnight workers specialize on repairing damage caused by vandalism. Recently, park decorator Frank Franco worked for several hours at the Indiana Jones Adventure replacing rope that someone had pulled free from the ride's scenery.

On a regular basis, Franco said, he finds that visitors have stolen or damaged fake skulls, lengths of bamboo, rope, nets and other props that create the ride's jungle ambience. Armed with epoxy glue and screws, Franco tries to ensure that the props stay in place.

"Every day is something different," he said.

As dawn breaks near Disneyland's Main Street, two custodians complete the final job of the night: scraping dried chewing gum from the pavement with metal blades attached to long poles. Gum is not sold in the park, but the sticky leftovers often end up on sidewalks, benches and tables.

Nearby, a crowd has gathered at the park's entrance, waiting to pass through the turnstiles. Park greeter Bob Daisey stands just inside the park and raises his arms to get the visitors' attention.

"We are about to open the original and most famous theme park in the world," he calls out, igniting cheers from throngs of fidgeting children.

Meanwhile, night custodian Steve Tomatis cleans up the last of the chewing gum on Main Street. It's dirty work, but he knows it's essential to preserving Walt Disney's ideals.

"We take care of this when everything else is done," he says. "It's a constant, ongoing problem, but it has to be done."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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